Unwilling to wait for Congress to act, President Obama signed an executive order on Feb. 12, 2013, the same date that he delivered the State of the Union address. The executive order directs certain federal agencies to develop voluntary standards for achieving cybersecurity, an effort to be led, in part, by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a component of the Commerce Department.

Citing national security concerns, the President’s order seeks cooperation and collaboration with the private sector. It is unclear at this point how far the "voluntary" standards will reach, or how much the President can force compliance absent Congressional action. However, once in place, companies may feel compelled to comply in order to remain competitive and to ensure a stronger defensible position in litigation involving lapses in security of critical data.